Klauer Campus

Helping to trace the trajectory of a student’s career

By Bill Knief

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Advising is a difficult occupation, and I admire those who practice it. To be successful, just for starters, you have to be a cross between a faculty member, an area coordinator, an advocate, a scholar, a coach, a friend, a banker, a therapist and a lion tamer. You have to be a good listener, but you also have to know the rules and how to apply them, and how to convince a student that it is in their best interest to abide by them as best they can. And in a less-than-perfect world, you have to face the fact that life circumstances can—and sometimes do—overwhelm your best efforts.

Patricia Gonzales has been the director of the Student Affairs Department at UNM-Taos for many years now, and for the past few semesters that means that she also oversees advising. As she has told me many timers in the past, everyone on her team is thoroughly cross trained, so that they can help students with issues such as filling out an application for admission, either in person or online, attending new student orientation, how to go about registering, obtaining transcripts, and who to talk to regarding different career and academic paths. Currently we have Rosina Chaparro in financial aid, Diego Trujillo as Student Success Manager and overseer of CASA Tutoring, Pam Brody in Developmental Studies, and three Senior Student Success Associates: Bella Rodriguez, Jennifer Miranda and our newest addition, Erika Holmes.

Erika Holmes comes to us by way of Adams State, where she will be finishing her Master’s Degree in May in Higher Education Administration and Leadership, specializing in minority serving institutions—in other words, working with populations that historically have been underserved in education in general, and in post secondary education in particular. I said to her on her second day on the job that those credentials sounded like a pretty snug fit with the mission of UNM-Taos, and she agreed.

“The restructuring you are doing in order to make advisors experts in specific areas while still encouraging generalists is excellent. Each advisor can focus on a specific area to better serve students. It makes good sense to have that depth of experience. Also, and this is one of the things I really like about the Taos campus, is the opportunity to develop a relationship between student and advisor. It really empowers students when they know they are going to be involved with an advisor for the entire time they are in school.

“I worked in a first year cohort program at Adams State that was created for students who needed a significant amount of developmental education. And what we saw was that those students that were coming in with high rates of remediation were the least likely to persist and graduate. So a program was created to give them the added support they needed to succeed. And that’s where I really learned the power of relationships, and that experience is perfect for our demographic here.

“We know that students that need developmental courses are often Pell Grant eligible, so they are usually the lowest income students, students of color, students coming from rural schools or crowded, urban schools lacking resources, and they are unprepared for college level coursework. And developmental education provides the opportunity. UNM-Taos is doing some really progressive things with accelerated 8 weeks courses, and 16 weeks courses split between developmental work and English 101, along with restructured advising. That’s really phenomenal, I think.

“When I was being interviewed they asked me what drew me to want to apply here, and I said I was drawn to the fact that UNM-Taos really does what it says it’s intended to do: provide opportunities to support the development and growth of the community.

“I’ve heard a lot of talk about simply eradicating developmental courses and teaching to the standardized test, and I am absolutely opposed to that. I think we would be better off using our time and our resources doing some intervention and communication and developing relationships across the nation with our local schools. I think about how I am at this point because I had people who were champions of my success and helped me navigate the system, and I see what the power of education can do. It can change the trajectory of a person’s life.

“I may be a bit of a romantic, but I believe that with access to success, and when a student knows that they have someone in their corner, education can change their world. We’ve all seen what a lack of education can do; maybe you have to be a romantic to keep going and not get burned out. But I love that UNM-Taos really reaches out and serves the people in this area who may not otherwise have been served.”

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